Get Richer, Poor Get Poorer
Sun “Small World” Column, Monday, February 1 / 16
new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, made quite a splash recently
in Davos, Switzerland meeting with the global business and
political elite at the World Economic Forum. The
international development non-governmental agency Oxfam used this annual event
as a backdrop to releasing its latest look
at global poverty,
announcing that the world’s 62 richest people now own as much
wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people on our planet (half its
Not only is that quite an alarming figure, but when put on
a timeline, the trend is definitely toward more wealth being
concentrated in fewer hands every year. In 2010, 388
people controlled that amount of wealth and in 2015, 80 did –
and now it is 62.
Oxfam acknowledged, in its study, that the number of people
living in extreme poverty in our world has also declined but
argues that if the concentration of wealth in so few hands had
been spread out, hundreds of millions more people could have
exited “extreme poverty”, which means earning US$1.25 per day or
The Oxfam report offers many more statistics than can be
outlined here, but one example they use is the pay for US
CEOs. Since 1978, Chief Executive Officers have seen their
pay increase by approximately 1000% while the typical US
worker’s wage has increased by just 11%. Since 2009, CEO
pay has increased by about 54%, while ordinary wages have
These global trends are mirrored by Canadian reality.
There are five Canadians at the top of our society who have the
same wealth as the bottom 30% - 11 million people!
Meanwhile, the poorest 10% of Canadians have had a wage increase
on average over the past 25 years of only $2.30 per day.
Oxfam cites tax havens as the tool most used by our elite to
maximize their financial position. It estimates that $7.6
trillion sits offshore and tax free. Collecting taxes on
these funds would bring $190 billion into government
programming. The new Government has promised tax relief
for the middle class and a tax hike on the rich but, Oxfam asks,
what about those in our country who are barely getting by?
Says Oxfam’s Canadian Director, “For a Prime Minister who has
championed women’s equality, it should be a no-brainer to use
the money otherwise lost in tax havens to provide more and
better health care, education and childcare, which benefits the
poor and particularly women.”
Another issue that affects women and the poor is the wage gap
and Oxfam encourages our government to deal with the fact that
Canadian women are still paid $8,000 less than men for the same
job. And governments, they say, need to look at what a
“living wage” would be in each province rather than having a
“minimum wage. ” That gap
in some provinces may be as much as $4 per hour!
There is also a growing wage gap between those able to get their
high school diploma or post-secondary education and training and
those who drop out. It is most often the poor who drop
out, fueling the multi-generational cycle of poverty.
Being poor, lacking proper nutrition, not being able to afford
community participation, lacking books, the young and poor end
up in long-term menial labour, McJobs and short-term positions,
never having enough money to save, using food banks more and
more, and economical disenfranchised.
As one might expect, there has been an outcry of criticism about
Oxfam’s study. While it is a snapshot of world economics,
the report supports certain political ideologies and offends
others. The response of one business editor, in an article
in the New Yorker magazine, was that Oxfam’s critics may have a
point that some of their research is flawed, but that the
general point is still true, that the richer are getting richer
and the poor, relatively speaking, are getting poorer.
As well, says the New Yorker, this trend indicates that a small
– and getting smaller – group of people have power over the rest
of us concentrated in their hands. They are the ones who
have the most goods, travel the most, have the best access to
education and health care, and so on, but they are also the
people who can participate in the World Economic Forum and
defend their position, and who can hire the best tax lawyers to
maintain their position to the detriment of the rest of us.
The other side of the coin to the World
Economic Forum is the World
Social Forum, a gathering of thousands of activists from
around the globe. The next one is scheduled for Montreal
next August 9th to 14th in Montreal. One hopes that Justin
Trudeau will be there to listen and learn, and continue to renew
Canada’s commitment to social development locally and globally.
Zack Gross is a former
Executive Director of the Marquis
Project in Brandon.